The Aia in the Puglia region of southern Italy is a unique place to stay offering both traditional Bed & Breakfast accommodation and the fully hosted Salento Experience.
I visited The Aia in the summer and was treated to a mix of the different activities that make up the ‘Salento Experience’ from yoga classes, boat trips, hiking and cooking classes. A range of unique and local experiences that make you fall in love with the Salento area of Puglia.
Your lovely hosts, Guilia and Kamal, will make you feel at home the moment you arrive. Guilia lives 5 minutes away from The Aia with her young daughter so it’s likely she’ll be cooking breakfast for you and Kamal, born in the UK with Indian origins specialises in yoga and lives in nearby Lecce. As a team, they work wonderfully together and really make a difference to your stay.
Want to decide whether the Salento experience is for you? Then keep reading and I will share my favourite activities and highlights from the trip.
The Aia, Salento in Puglia
Where is The Aia?
Situated in the Salento countryside but close to the coast of the Ionian Sea, you can escape the busy city (and even town) life when you’re staying at The Aia. Although nearby town Nardo is only 4 km and a 10-minute drive away, you certainly feel away from it all when you’re staying there.
I took a flight from the UK (Stansted airport) direct to Brindisi which is the closest main airport to The Aia about 76 km and an hour’s drive via Lecce to the accommodation. Lecce is the largest town nearest The Aia, about a 30-minute drive away.
What facilities are at The Aia?
Set in 5 acres of land the main building is hidden from the road amongst olive trees, walnut trees, plants, pretty flowers and The Aia’s own garden patch, producing food directly for The Aia guests. Once you arrive at the main driveway there’s a small outdoor seating area, next to the newly created vegetable garden.
It’s perfect for breakfast and a cup of traditional Italian coffee to start your day, a relaxing lunch under the shades of the hot midday sun or a glass of wine and olives in the evening!
Once inside there’s a small kitchen, leading on to a large open space indoors with quirky furniture and pictures from around the world, ask Guilia and she’ll tell you a story about each piece.
Down a long corridor, there are 6 double bedrooms, all ensuite. The rooms are simple in style with matching furniture and a door leading outdoors. One of the clever things about the rooms is that the doors have slated shutters and a mesh so you can have a cool breeze in your room whilst you sleep without having to worry about pesky mosquitoes!
The rooms also have air-con, a fan and heaters so depending on the time of year you can have a temperature that’s comfortable for you.
Outdoors there are plenty of deckchairs, sun loungers and hammocks scattered around the Aia, along with a refreshing outdoor pool that you can take a dip in when the hot sunshine becomes too much!
Keep reading for more information about the real Salento experiences and activities.
Yoga classes at The Aia
The yoga classes are held outdoors at The Aia, amongst Olive trees and gorgeous pink flowers (I have forgotten what they were called!)
There is an official yoga area, you’re not literally in the trees! But the cool breeze, fresh air and sounds of birds tweeting makes for a fully relaxing and unique experience.
For me, this one one of my highlights of the experience, Kamal a British Yoga teacher creates yoga classes tailored to your ability. In our group, there were regulars joining from her class in Lecce plus the likes of me with limited yoga experience. Although I did surprise myself with some of the yoga poses I managed!
Coastal hike in Portoselvaggio Natural Park
A short 20-minute drive from The Aia and you’re in Portoselvaggio Natural Park. A beautiful area that runs along the turquoise coast. You have a mix of nature trails, rocky paths, rocks if you fancy some scrambling and the inviting ocean to jump into.
On the day we hiked along the coast, there were really strong winds, apparently, the Salento area is renowned for its wind! I’m a wuss when it comes to jumping off rocks (even from a few metres) so the waves crashing against the rocks meant I stayed firmly on dry land.
On a normal hot sunny day, I would have been brave and jumped (maybe haha).
Traditional Italian cooking class
Another one of my favourite activities from the week, the cooking class with Loredana, a local Italian lady. Loredana comes to The Aia and with Giulia, as an interpreter, you’re able to watch and take part in an Italian cooking class.
Guess what we made? Yep, you guessed it, pasta! But it was really cool as I’d never made pasta before. Once the dough was made by Loredana we then help make the different pasta shapes.
Sunset trip to Gallipoli
A drive to the beautiful, yet touristy coastal town of Gallipoli. In June, this quaint town seemed busy but still pretty to walk around the historic streets.
It’s about 40 km/ 25 miles from the larger town of Lecce. The perfect place is sat with a glass of wine watching the sunset go down into the sea, but be sure to get there early otherwise you might struggle to get a good spot
Boat trip along the coast
The boat trip although lovely and relaxing didn’t live up to my expectations. In my head I’d pictured a boat with sails, gliding along the coast but instead we had a motorised dive boat haha.
The trip was about 2-hours which included two stops close to Portoselvaggio Natural Park, where we had hiked 3-days before. It was lovely to see it from a different point of view and learn about the Jurassic history of the area.
Our captain, also a Divemaster told us how different the water levels used to be including some great places to explore whilst scuba diving.
Sculpturing experience with a local Lecce tradesman
Meeting a real Italian character and having a go at carving from the stone was great fun. Before visiting Puglia, Italy I had no idea you could carve stone in the way you can with Lecce Stone.
This dusty outdoor workshop is home to Renzo Buttazzo a professional Sculptor and Designer in Lecce.
He demonstrated how he creates his masterpieces using a variety of different tools, from chisels, hammers and even axes!
Exploring the city of Lecce
The historic city of Lecce, with a population of c 100,000 is the largest city closest to The Aia. I visited twice during my stay and pleasantly pleased with the beautiful history around the city, including its very own amphitheatre.
More information about The Aia
How much does a stay at The Aia cost?
There are two options available with the traditional Bed & Breakfast or a fully hosted retreat plus activities with Giulia and Kamal.
Bed & Breakfast
Bed & Breakfast based on two people costs €100 or if you want to add a third person into the room it’s €110*.
All the rooms are set up as doubles with ensuite bathrooms but a couple of them can accommodate an extra bed if required.
Breakfast is sourced locally and you might even be eating some of the produce grown in The Aia garden.
For the fully hosted retreat, the cost which includes your transfers, breakfast, daily yoga, hiking and boat trip for a single person is €680. For two people sharing, the cost is €590 per person.*
The retreats are available between March-June and September/October. Some additional costs apply. Please contact Giulia at The Aia for more information.
Evening meals can be provided for both Bed & Breakfast guests and those staying for the retreats.
It’s a 4-course meal, including wine and coffee for only €25.00 for adults per person and €15.00 for children.
Again all food is locally sourced, from farm to table.
*All prices are correct at time of writing.
What other activities can you do whilst staying at The Aia?
- Chill or go for a swim in the outdoor pool
- Arrange an on-site massage (on the yoga space) €30-€40
- Relax in the hammocks, read a book or listen to some music
- Bed & Breakfast guests can opt to join the Wednesday evening yoga class for €10
- Movie night on the roof terrace, including wine 7-10 pm every Thursday (Free for guests on the retreat or €12 for B&B guests)
- Bikes are available to use (when I stayed they had no locks so I was unable to use them to go and explore, Giulia was lock buying after my visit!)
Day trips from The Aia
Whether you’re visiting the Bed & Breakfast for one night or staying the full week for the retreat it’s great to venture further and explore on your own.
This is only really possible with a hire car to allow full flexibility. Although it’s great to have the transfers included to The Aia I would have rather hired a car to give myself more options for exploring whilst I was there.
Luckily, my fellow traveller Nadine from Le Long Weekend had hired a car and invited me to join her for one of her days exploring the east coast of Puglia as well as a day trip to Nardo town.
You can hire a small car for a week from Brindisi Airport from €140
Nardo town is like a mini Lecce it’s full of wonderful history, cute streets and locals enjoying drinks and Italian food. The main difference is that it’s less touristy (to be fair Lecce wasn’t that touristy) and it doesn’t take as long to walk around!
Now on to the mini road trip. You could either do a similar road trip or pick your favourite spot depending on what you enjoy doing
A small town with sandy beaches on the east coast of Puglia. It’s 53 km from The Aia, about a 50-minute drive.
We stopped at two beaches, both with numerous sun loungers and umbrellas lined up. Not my idea of a relaxing beach trip but if all you want is the beach, sand and sea then this would be a good option.
If you’re short on time then personally I would skip this stop.
Torre di Roca Vecchia and the Grotte della Poesia
About 3 km from San Foca, you’ll reach the next coastal town of Roca. I didn’t go into the centre of Roca but instead, we parked up to explore the Area Archeological di Roca Vecchia, the Torre di Roca and the famous Grotte della Poesia.
Parking in an area next to Oasis Park Hotel (you didn’t have to pay so always a bonus).
You’ll see people (on a busy day) swarming towards the Grotte della Poesia which is further down the road, heading south but I would recommend spending some time exploring the coastal path on the opposite side, including the historic remains of the Torre di Roca. It’s a beautiful area and much quieter too!
The Grotte della Poesia is a completely natural swimming hole, with the bright sunshine shining down into the turquoise waters it certainly looks inviting. Many locals jump from the rock edge into the cool waters, again yes I bottled the jump!
If like me you’re not a ‘jumping’ person there are stone steps carved into the rock leading down into the water. This is a really popular spot for locals, especially at the weekend (yes we went on a Sunday) so it was super busy.
Another 3 km down the road you can pull off down a side road. Initially, it seemed like a dead-end but a path leads along to the coastal path where you can explore, walk along the coast and admire the views.
You can walk in both directions, I didn’t have time myself to explore but I could see the coastal path heading south which looked a beautiful stretch to explore.
Visit historic Otranto town
This has a similar vibe to the coastal town of Gallipoli on the west side of this coastal section, maybe slightly larger. There are a couple of small beaches or you can explore the city, shop in the many touristy outlets or simply sit and have a glass of wine!
The old town is made up of cute windy streets, those that are wonderful for getting lost in. Although Otranto isn’t that big and is easy to navigate so you don’t need to worry too much about getting lost.
Lake of Bauxite della Cava
Last stop, about 3 km from Otranto was the Lake Bauxite della Cava. Although I’d travelled another 25 km the distance the time back to The Aia was the same, about 50 minutes.
Arriving late in the evening is probably not the best time to visit (if you want good photos!) However, I can imagine earlier in the day it would have been considerably busier. The sun directly over the Lake Bauxite della Cava, showing all the bright colours would have been awesome. It did still look pretty amazing but I’m giving you the choice!
Parking and entrance were free when I arrived, again possibly because it was late in the day there was no-one about. There was a sign saying €3 so be prepared you might have to pay.
So there’s a little flavour of what you can experience staying at The Aia in Puglia, plus a few bonus activities located nearby.
Are you planning a trip to Puglia or would you like more information about The Aia? Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below or visit attheaia.com
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*I was a hosted guest at The Aia, Puglia Italy. However, as always all thoughts and opinions are my own. Honesty is the best policy 🙂
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